Spring is on its way! Every farmer, gardener and outdoor working person will be able to identify with this, there is something in the air. One day we just step outside and the air feels and smells different. Bulbs are flowering, birds are singing and there is more heat in the sun. But it’s more than that, it’s an essence of things to come.
Amanda’s Potato Sacks & T&M Potato Sacks
My greenhouses are now filling up with fruit, veg and flower seeds that have been recently set. I love this time of year. I started out by asking Mark to find my potato sacks and give them a cold shower, so that there was no risk over overwintering pests or diseases in them that could affect my crop. After leaving the sacks to dry out in the big greenhouse until the weekend, I then set about choosing which seeds to grow. I did plan in January what I wanted, but then I changed my mind again. I do understand why garden designers say to just plant a few types of seeds with the same colour palette as it gives the garden uniformity, but I don’t like this style. I agree that it looks really effective, but to me, life is too short to just grow one type or colour of something.
So come Saturday, I sowed my potatoes and put them on the path of the large greenhouse where they will stay until the frosts have passed and they have been earthed up maybe once or twice. I also potted up some hot chillies and some mild peppers.
On Sunday I emptied everything out of the smaller greenhouse and gave it a good brush out. Mark then dug the greenhouse border over for me, pulling up a few weeds that had germinated in there over winter. Whilst he did this I took a variety of different sized pots into the house to give them a warm soapy wash in readiness for refilling.
Potato ‘Charlotte’ & Chilli Pepper ‘Poblana Ancho’
While the pots were drying I then set about sieving the garden centre compost. I enjoy doing this as its a great workout for my upper body. I place about three to five scoops of soil into the sieve and then shake it like mad until I have a fine potting compost in the tray below. The rougher stuff that is left in the sieve then gets thrown into the large borders in the bigger greenhouse, as its still good stuff just not great for the seeds. Sieving the compost also shows me what quality the shop bought stuff is like. I have bought what I thought was good value compost only to find out that it’s full of twigs and hard material and vey occasionally some clippings that seeds would not be able to push through. T&M sell incredicompost® but I have not used this as yet.
It takes me at least an hour to sieve about thirty litres of compost, it thirsty work but it’s nice in the sun. Mark is cutting the lawns so I sneak off to put the kettle on. Once inside I then look through my three tins of seeds. I am banned for buying seeds, according to Mark I have enough seeds to last me a few years. I like to have a choice though, and I always grow something new each year. Although I do have my favourites that I grow each year. These include sunflowers, peas and tomatoes.
Cycad seeds, Sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ & Pea ‘Aderman’
I am probably too methodical, but once my compost is sieved, I three-quarter fill all of the clean pots, this way I can see if I have enough compost, as it annoys me when I get to the last three or so pots at the end of the day only to find I have to drag everything back out and start sieving again.
I then put my seeds packets in order and using my seed sower device that looks a bit like a syringe I plant the number of required seeds into the pots. Sometimes I will sow the whole packet, but occasionally I just like to try a few seeds, this way if they fail the first time around, or an unforeseen change in weather kills them. I can always make a second sowing.
I start by planting three pots of Geraniums, I have not grown these from seed before so am excited to see how they differ from shop bought ones. There are eleven seeds in the packet so I put three per pot. Then I plant a single pot of Basil ‘Lemonade’, I love this herb, it’s so versatile. I also do a single pot of Basil ‘Rubin’, this is a very strong burgundy basil that I want to share with my friends and family. The Sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ are next, I plant five pots, two seeds per pot. Next is another plant I have not grown before, it’s called Malvin ‘Mystic Merlin‘ and it’s a mallow. The packet says its good for cottage style gardens and back of the borders, the flowers are lilac, purple and blue. This pack of seeds was part of a gift that I had for being blogger of the month towards the end of last year. I don’t think I have ever seen this plant before, so I can’t wait to see what it looks like. The tomatoes are next on the list. I am growing the Vegetable of the Year (2016) Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ variety. It’s the best for blight resistance and as we had blight last year because of the warm wet summer, I am hoping I will have a much better crop. It’s also Year of the Cosmos so I plant up three pots with these seeds. Summer isn’t summer without going out into the garden and eating peas from their pods so I sow ten Pea ‘Alderman’ Heritage, they go into individual one inch pots. I never grow rows of peas, I train them up a wigwam and do succession sowing during the year. This way I can avoid the pests and crop for longer in the year.
Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’
I am eager to try a new vegetable too, so I sow three pots of Patty Plum Squash. These green skinned ones look like they would be nice stuffed and roasted. They also look good for a squash soup.
Finally I plant up my Cycads Species Mixed, again a free gift from T&M, there are only three seeds in this pack and one of them is huge as large as a fifty pence. It says they take one to three months to germinate, this is another new plant for me. I have seen them growing in botanical garden greenhouses, and I am a bit dubious about how big they are going to grow, but like I stated earlier, life’s too short to just grow one type of seed. I have a plan, that if they do grow they can stay in my small greenhouse turning it into a nursery and tropical space, whilst the bigger one can be for my fruit and veg. Mark did say if it gets too big it can always go outside, but being a greenhouse plant I don’t think it will survive. The Cycads are slow growing though so hopefully I will have few years to think about what to do with them if they actually grow.
After writing out a set labels on the back of old lolly sticks for each set of seeds, I then placed the tubs in wicker baskets and cover them with cling film to help retain heat and moisture during germination. I need to find my Dymo Machine so I can make individual labels for each pot, as I can guarantee things will grow at different times and I will move things around on the staging, and before I know it, my tomatoes will be in the garden borders and peas will be in the greenhouse, as I will have muddled the labels, or worse Mark will knock the labels off whilst watering and then I will have no idea what is what.
Just when I thought I had finished, I decided I would direct sow two dozen radish into the small greenhouse border. After all the soil was looking bare.
The above list might sound excessive but in all I only planted about thirty five pots and four sacks of potatoes. This will give me a good start and add to the plants that are now recovering from last month. It also leaves me with the opportunity to sow again later in the spring.
Petunia ‘Anna’ & Petunia ‘Night Sky’
Greenhouses aren’t just for germinating seeds though, they are a great place for bringing on plug plants, I am expecting a delivery soon from T&M of Petunia ‘Anna’, Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and my favourite Nicotiana ‘Eau d’ Cologne’. I have also ordered the shrub Barnsley Baby a Lavatera x clementii I have always fancied one of these and as it was on a special offer I could not resist. It comes in a seven centimetre pot so I might need to bring it on before it gets planted in the garden.
Greenhouses come in all shapes, sizes and prices, I started out with the plastic pop up ones many years ago, and I would recommend starting with these before investing in a horticultural one as this is a great test to see if you have the time and energy to devote to gardening whilst on a budget. My brother bought a lean to greenhouse last year, but as yet he hasn’t even built it, although he says its definitely going up this year and please can I supply him and the girls with some plants including aubergines. I hadn’t got around to sowing the aubergines.
So I now have another list of other plants that I have to grow for myself and the family, Aubergines, for my brother Sweet Peas and more Cosmos for mum, and a selection of herbs for someone at work. I usually grow loads of plants anyway so what’s a few more?
Do you end up growing more than what’s on your original gardening list or is it just me?
Until next month, Happy Gardening,
Have you ever really considered what attracts you to gardening or plants in general? Is it the way they look, the colours they produce, you can eat them or they were just the ones that the shop had at the time? For me it’s a bit more sciency (yes I’ve just made a new word).
We all know that you can set a seed, keep it warm and damp and it will grow. That part is no different to how we reproduce. (Well slightly but the theory is the same.) Except plants don’t just reproduce by seed. Some you can break a piece of them off, put it into water on a windowsill and it starts to shoot roots and grow more leaves. Others simply grow another version of themselves out the side of them, which you can then divide.
It simply fascinates me that they can do this. We can’t simply chop off a toe or take some hair and place it into water to grow another one of ourselves. If we could it might have some rather drastic consequences.
Of course we do share some similar qualities to plants in the way we present ourselves to others to be able to continue to stand as a human race. I know that sounds rather strange but we put on make-up, dress in certain ways and spray ourselves silly with perfumes and aftershaves. But plants are very special in how they do this. They get someone else to do the work for them.
Take the bee orchid. How has it evolved to know that it needs to produce a flower that looks like the bee that pollinates it to reproduce? Or the Titan Arum which has a 10 foot tall flower and smells of rotten meat to attract its pollinators? Some plants will only open when they cane ‘hear’ the vibration of the certain insect that can pollinate it. Others make their fruits attractive to birds because they need the stomach acid to soften the seed coating before it can germinate.
Is it possible that maybe plants, although do not have a physical brain like animals, really do think and have managed to manipulate the world around them for their own advantage? This might be a bold statement but really, plants are far superior to the animal kingdom. After all they have been here thousands of years before us so they should have a good head start. I just can’t get enough of them.
Until next time Lesley
We moved to Seaford back in 2004 and have now seen 13 years of winter weather. How unprepared we were though for the Winter of 2015/2016! The storms and gales along with the salt laden winds have been by far the worst we have experienced, in terms of their impact on the garden.
MET office weather map & phlomis
It all began with Storm Abigail back in November and most recently we had Storm Jake, but by far the worst to hit the garden was Storm Imogen on the 8th February. You can see from the Met Office’s weather map for the day that we got winds of up to 80mph across the south coast! I decided to take a short video clip of the storm’s impact on the garden that afternoon and you can see the evidence in the short film I posted to YouTube. It was very difficult to stand up outside the house that day with the force of the gales! Many of the protective fleeces I put on the more delicate plants, primarily for protection from the winds, rather than from the cold, were torn apart by the gales as you can see.
Phormium ‘Platt’s Black’ & torn fleece
The view out of the front porch window across the beach garden was pretty grim too! At this time of year, the garden is usually looking quite pretty with lots of things looking forward to spring. This year however it still looks pretty desolate with so much to do to tidy it up. I look out now and think it will never be as good as it was last year by the time we open the garden gate to the public in June!
The front seaside garden was planted to take account of the coastal weather and it is quite amazing how resilient the plants can be in such adverse conditions. The Hellebore argentifolius in the centre still managed to look radiant throughout. The large clump of Cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ by the entrance has been decimated with the relentless salt winds but amazingly still has a few signs of new growth upon it. I am hopeful it will make a recovery when the weather changes. Likewise, the Phlomis fructicosa in both front and back has been the worst impacted with all the new growth in January completely destroyed and now looking very sorry for themselves. Another casualty at the front is the badly burnt rosemary which has had all the ends browned off.
Orlearia & Eleagarius x ebbingeii
Whilst the front garden actually still looks quite good overall, the back is another story. Even old stalwarts like the eleaganus x ebbingeii and the several bay shrubs have taken a real beating with many of their leaf ends turning brown.
One of my favourite Euphorbia, Mellifera, has really been badly scorched with all new growth and even whole stems decimated by the salt, there is still some newer growth now further down the plant which is promising.
This hardy fuchsia, riccartonii had lots of new growth prior to the storms but they were all burnt off but amazingly nature is incredible and there are signs of it starting to shoot again.
Bay & Fuchsia riccartoni
There is lots of ivy around the garden too, which has taken a real beating as this picture alongside the gate at the top of the garden bears testament. Even good coastal shrubs like olearia have taken a real thrashing too this winter with many scorched leaves across the tops of the hedges.
Ivy & Euphorbia mellifera
The container of Phormium ‘Platts Black’ alongside the Summer House was right in the line of fire for the winds blowing up the garden, it is a relatively recent New Zealand Flax cultivar with leaves in the most remarkable shade of purple-brown that is almost black. One of the more compact Phormiums, this has an elegant weeping habit that makes it eminently suited to growing in a pot, lets hope we see some new growth so I can cut back the damaged leaves.
Physocarpus Opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’
One of the lovely shrubs in a container, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ has also been a victim to the weather too, even though relatively protected at the back of the house. Many gardeners know this as ninebark, an undistinguished shrub with ordinary green leaves, white flowers, and fall fruit. But ‘Seward,’ sold under the trademark name ‘Summer Wine’, has outstanding burgundy leaves and pink flowers that bloom in early summer. This plant is super tough and makes a stunning focal point, let’s see how tough it is and hope it does well again this summer. We now need a sustained period of good weather to enable me to get out and work on the garden ready for is summer visitors.
You can read more about the garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk and see how the garden looks by the summer!
It’s been a long while since I managed to write things down – moving house kind of got in the way and last summer was spent trying to unpack boxes and tame a rather wild garden. Now that things are slowly getting straight I have had a chance to divert my attention to playing with indoor planting.
Being a lover of gadgets and fun things, I stumbled upon a website from China and after a bit of surfing and buying some very silly things, I came across these:
Obviously these stirred my curiosity and creative bones, and I decided to take the plunge and buy them. Three of the connecting ones and one each of the others (the whole lot came to less than £15!). I had a bit of trepidation about ordering fragile glass items from the other side of the world but my philosophy tends to be “if it works, great, if it doesn’t it’s a lesson learned!”
3 weeks later and I had purchased my plants, succulents http://www.thompson-morgan.com/flowers/all-other-seeds-and-plants/cacti mainly, a colleague had also suggested I try planting in aqua beads rather than soil as it would look nicer and perhaps a bit more modern. The packages arrived, all in one piece and looks amazing! I really felt quite excited about putting everything together for my soilless indoor experiment.
Here are the ingredients…
And so to work:
First thing was to gently wash away the soil from all of the plants’ roots, this was done by soaking them first and a careful rinse which removed most of it followed by a more meticulous picking away of any leftover lumps of compost which left me with this:
I decided to start with the large jar, on the basis that it would be the easiest and less fiddly to do, so I dropped a couple of handfuls of the hydrated aqua beads in, they are extremely slippery when at their full size and behave like toy rubber balls so if you drop one it could go anywhere, several of mine did! Once they’d been levelled off I started to place my plants, taller ones at the back and smaller at the front, hopefully I’ll get the desired effect once they start to grow. It was a case of position the plants, hold them and gently slide the roots into the mass of jelly like beads. Once they were all planted however it looked slightly anaemic and needed a bit of depth. The best solution I came up with was to sprinkle some aquarium gravel around the plants (I have fish tanks so not a problem) and this looked loads better and I was pleased with the result.
The hanging glass balls were, as I suspected, slightly more tricky to assemble, but worth it, I used a dessert spoon to put enough water beads in and did the same with the plants too as my fat fingers wouldn’t fit in.
And so I had planted them all up, and considering how cheap the glassware was, I am really happy with them all!
I’ll feed them once a month with a liquid feed direct into the beads which will probably dye them a blue colour, hopefully this will make them look interesting too. I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop and really hoping that some of the plants will start to trail out of the openings for the full effect to be complete. The next project is going to be a miniature garden in an outdoor pot. Time to start collecting bits and pieces for that!
As this is my first blog, ever, I thought I would start by reflecting a little on where our gardening world has been going since the Second World War and, of course, where we are on the journey now!
Immediately after the war our successive Governments, of a variety of political persuasions, encouraged farmers and growers to maximise the cropping potential of every acre of land they could make productive. This move, in turn, caused what became known as the chemical treadmill. Where we applied stronger and stronger chemical products to kill off pests, diseases and weeds; that dared to attack our ever increasing acreages of crops. By the time we reached the 1970’s we had food mountains and wine lakes and had, without realising it, started to kill off wild flowers, insects, birds and wild animals in numbers that are now causing us serious concern.
Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower ‘Honey Bee Mixed’
When Rachel Carson wrote ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962 few people listened to her concerns about the excessive use of chemical pesticides across the developed and developing world. When Dr. Chris Baines got the BBC to make the film ‘Bluetits and Bumblebees’ in the early 1980’s we all watched it but did not pick up the message. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), started in 1954 by Lawrence Hills has been encouraging amateur and professional growers to steer away from inorganic pesticides for over 60 years but who has been listening?
Now that scientific evidence and advanced knowledge of the damage that we have done to our planet over the last 60 + years has come into the public’s view, our Seed companies, breeders, researchers, nurseries and growers are seeing the potential market in offering us new strains of old favourites that require less and less pesticide attention.
Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 Hybrid
Scanning through the first eleven pages of Thompson and Morgan’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, I have found five cultivars of popular vegetables that have known resistance to one problem or another. Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 is resistant to early and late blight; Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 is resistant to carrot root fly; Parsnip ‘Gladiator’F1 is resistant to Parsnip canker; Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 and Courgette ‘Defender’ F1 are both resistant to powdery mildew.
Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ F1 Hybrid and Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 Hybrid
Maybe someone will find strains of Impatiens and Aquilegias that are not devastated by Downy mildew in the future and Ash trees that are resistant to Ash dieback.
Busy Lizzy ‘Divine Mixed’ and Aquilegia ‘Swan Mixed’
This is all fantastic work on the part of breeders and growers and I feel sure that the list will get longer over the years as the pesticides gradually disappear from our Garden Centre shelves and pests and diseases become more resistant to them.
This cultural method of reducing the impact of pests and diseases should now be at the forefront in our battle with Mother Nature and, if we use physical barriers to help prevent attacks alongside the occasional use of biological control methods, we should be able to stop the use inorganic pesticides altogether.
Firstly, I would like to apologise for this blog been later than intended. I could say it was down to my gastro-flu bug, or I could blame the weather, either way it has kept me out of the greenhouse for weeks. I was reading over last February’s blog and gardening diary, and in terms of planting I am about a week behind. Last year I was tending to my indoor onions that seemed to take forever to grow, but were well worth the wait. My potatoes were in their grow bags, and I was waiting for some of my seeds to germinate.
This year my Potato ‘Charlotte’ have been growing their funny little tails in my tin cupboard next to the sink as opposed to on top of the wardrobe in egg cartons. The reason why they were in the cupboard is because I took them out of my fridge salad drawer where I had been keeping them from last year to warm up, and I put them in the cupboard in a bowl, then accidentally forgot about them, it was only when we were looking for a tin of tuna that we rediscovered them!
The weather here in Pembrokeshire has been awful – day after day of rain. We also got hit badly by Storm Imogen at the start of the month, and it came at the worst possible time. We were due to take a relative who had been staying here back to London on the Monday morning, and stay a few days with them ,as we wanted to beat the early morning traffic we set the alarm for stupid o clock and went to bed early. Unfortunately the wind was howling, around midnight, and the thunder woke us up. As a precaution we set the mobile phone alarm in case our electricity went off. We never really got back to sleep properly and when dawn came round we were dismayed to find that the storm was getting worse. We were just finishing our breakfast when Mark causally announced that he was surprised the greenhouses was still standing. To be honest so was I. We had checked the local radio announcements and they said that the Cleddau Bridge was close to all vehicles as the winds had been recorded at 95 MPH meaning we would have to go the long way round to reach the motorway and when the bridge is closed it cuts the county in half, so anyone going from Pembroke Dock to Haverfordwest and vice versa would face a 30 mile detour. Then suddenly crash. I looked at Mark, “What was that?” I asked. Another crash and splatter, the unmistakeable sound of the greenhouses exploding. It was still too dark to see anything, and as we placed the relative in her car seat, we drove away wondering just what we would come home too.
Greenhouse & Garden Damage
On the way to London, I text mum and Rachel to ask if it was safe later in the week, could they see how much damage was done, part of me wanted to know, part of me was dreading it. Rachel, unfortunately wasn’t able to check, but mums text said, it doesn’t look too bad. I think she was being optimistic as we lost 14 panes of glass and the door had popped out out of its frame, meaning that the plants had very little protection from the elements when we were away.
When we got back Mark managed to put the door back in, remarkably the glass that had popped out of it lay on the grass undamaged. We also had some spare panes from when the large greenhouse was delivered last year, so that saved a lot of money. We salvaged a piece of glass that was broken at the corners, useless for the part it had come out of but perfect for a missing triangular bit if the glazier was willing to cut it for us. We phoned our usual glazier and got no reply, so we tried a new one who said the older one was no longer in business. The new glazier was more than happy to cut the spare glass for us, he said his supplies were a bit low as everyone was calling on him. We ended up having to buy only 8 sheets at £35 so it wasn’t too expensive. Frustratingly the wind and rain meant it took another few days before it was safe enough for Mark to go out into the garden to install them.
What’s left after Storm Imogen!
As for the plants, well, I have only have 2 Sweet peas left after my September sowing. The geranium is kaput and the pepper is too. The Aloe Vera’s are perfect, the money tree and spider plant are thriving. Unbelievably there is a planter of spring bulbs in bloom, including a purple Anenome. The Yarrows and Californian Poppies were battered, wind burnt, and totally dried out, but they are resilient and they appear to be making a bit of a comeback. The Nigella sort of looks ok, and I appear to have a dandelion in another pot, which I did definitely not plant. The mystery plant that I thought was a tomato seedling is beginning to look more like a hollyhock. My begonias have finally died back, so I can now remove the tubers and get ready to plant them in fresh compost towards the end of March.
I said in my January blog that I had lots of seeds so plant and that I had bought my compost, but for some reason I was reluctant to do so, and for once my laziness has paid off, as I would have lost the lot in the storm. Besides, as the last two years have shown, we get better days in autumn then we do in spring, and so long as everything gets underway in the next two weeks it should be okay.
Seed Packets & Cosmos ‘Sensation Mixed’
One type of seed I a really looking forward to growing was kindly sent to me by Jean Willis, and this is the Chilli ‘Cayennetta’ it can be sown in Feb March and April. Mark wants to make some sweet chilli sauce. I don’t particularly love hot peppers, so I will be trying the Pepper ‘Sweet Boneta’ sauce instead. Luckily she also sent me these too.
I had some free Cosmos seeds from a magazine, and as it’s the year of the Cosmos, I definitely have to grow these. The mix is called Summer Sensation and they come in pink, carmine and white, again they are T&M seeds so I know they will be reliable.
Hopefully, March will be more productive for me, I would be interested to know if any readers were affected by the winter storms, and if like me, you are still behind with your greenhouse or gardening tasks.
Until then, Happy Gardening,